GAO Study: No Measure Of Aircraft Effectiveness Against Wildfires

August 29, 2013

Despite years of using private aircraft to fight forest fires, the Forest Service and Interior Department do not know how effective the aircraft are against wildfires. That is one of the findings from a study by the Government Accountability Office.The study comes as the agencies are at their highest wildfire preparedness level. Both the Forest Service and Interior Department contract for more than 150 helicopters and aircrafts of various sizes.

The primary role of the aircraft is to drop water or fire-retardant slurry on and near wildfires, such as the one burning just outside Yosemite National Park.

According to the GAO, instead of using data and scientific analysis, the Forest Service culture has placed a greater value on experience and history. A new Forest Service program is now gathering information on aircraft and when they are used and how they are deployed. The study also is looking at how many gallons of water or fire retardant are dropped, from what height, and how much area is covered.

The GAO pointed out that because of contract disputes only one of the next generation tankers that meet upgraded speed and payload requirements has been fighting fires. Meanwhile, the Forest Service continues to rely heavily on older, larger air tankers that are more than 50 years old.